Sportz Cases, LLC was most likely trying to capitalize on one of the premium NBA athletes when they produced a phone case with a cartoonized image of Giannis Antetokounmpo throwing down a two-handed dunk.
The reigning NBA most valuable player’s famous moniker: the “Greek Freak,” is being used without his authorization. In a complaint filed on Tuesday, Antetokounmpo alleges that Sportz Cases is clearly infringing the trademark he holds for the phrase “Greek Freak” by naming the case after his nickname while also violating his right to publicity by featuring his likeness in the design without permission.
Antetokounmpo has two registered trademarks, GREEK FREAK and GREEK FR34K:
The complaint includes a variety of other trademark infringement and dilution claims including claims for unjust enrichment, unfair competition and violation of the right of publicity. The damages sought at this time are unknown.
Trademark infringement occurs if a party owns the rights to a particular trademark, that party can sue subsequent parties for trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. There must be “use” and a “likelihood of confusion” of the trademark in order to bring suit. “Use” means the use of a trademark in connection with the sale of a good and that sale constitutes infringement if it is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the source of those goods or to the sponsorship or approval of those goods.
Trademark dilution requires that a trademark be of “famous” status and that owner may bring action against any use of the mark that dilutes the distinctive quality of the mark either through “blurring” or “tarnishment” of that mark. Dilution commonly occurs when the power of a certain trademark is weakened through its identification with dissimilar goods.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and his team of attorneys first sent Sportz Cases a cease and desist letter in October. The letter demanded them to stop the sale of the “Greek Freak” and Antetokounmpo’s likeness and turn over an accounting of all profits made on the Antetokounmpo phone case, as such profits should belong to the trademark owner. Sportz Cases never responded to the cease and desist letter, however they did change the name of the phone case from “Greek Freak” to “The Baller.”
“before removing the ‘Greek Freak’ from its website, [Sportz Cases] had made substantial sales of products under it, capitalizing upon [Giannis’s] famous mark.”Plaintiff’s Attorneys – Pardalis & Nohavicka LLP
Antetokounmpo’s attorneys stated that they provided plenty of opportunities to avoid litigation and that all they demanded was that the company stop selling the “pirated” merchandise. Sportz Cases has not yet responded to the complaint or any of the demands that Antetokounmpo’s attorneys have sent.
This is not Giannis’s first run in with infringement situations. In August 2019 a settlement was reached with artist Jinder Bhogal for selling a collection of T-shirts bearing his image in a collection named “Greek Freak.” Also in 2019, he sued Viral Style, LLC, which infringed his trademark by selling knockoff hoodies and T-shirts.
Giannis isn’t alone when it comes to protecting his likeness through trademark rights to his nickname. The late Kobe Bryant owned a trademark registration on “Black Mamba.” Kobe had been fighting the pharmaceutical company Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals for years. The company was attempting to trademark “Black Mamba HYPERRUSH.” Kobe fought this request, accusing them of ripping off his famous nickname. Lebron James closely guards authorized use of his prized trademark “King James.”
Trademark disputes not an uncommon ground for athletes. Their fame makes their likeness susceptible to companies’ attempts to turn profits on their successes. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s defenses of his own trademark only indicate a successful rise in his notoriety and the chances of future disputes only increase with his success on the court.